By Richard Edmondson
In the video above, Fox News commentator Todd Starnes discusses the cancellation of a performance of the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, that was to have been staged at a school in Pennsylvania; a prohibition against children singing at a nativity scene in North Carolina; and the removal of a Charlie Brown-themed Christmas decoration from a school in Texas.
The commentary is good as far as it goes, and the book Starnes is promoting might be a worthwhile read, but as is often the case with Fox News, the report stops short of identifying the exact nature of the fault lines in America. For instance, is this simply a dispute between Christians, on the one hand, and “godless grinches” or “secular humanists,” on the other?
Or would it be more accurate to describe it as a cultural war–or maybe even a “cultural jihad,” as Starnes characterizes it–being waged by Jews (or some Jews, to be more precise) against Christians?
Aside from the incidents discussed by Starnes above, there have been at least four attacks upon Christianity published in the mainstream media just since the beginning of December. These include an article entitled, “Virgin Mary, Career-Killer,” published at the Daily Beast; “Our Culture of Purity Celebrates the Virgin Mary. As a Rape Victim, that Hurts Me,” published by the Washington Post; “Judaism Brings God into the Home in a Way that Christianity Rarely Does,” posted at The Guardian; and “I Baptized My Kid, But I Kind of Regret It,” which can be viewed at Redbook Magazine.
Perhaps oddly, a lot of these articles are written by Christians, including, in two cases, by those who hold positions as pastors. It seems self-evident, but perhaps it needs to be pointed out: wherever there are attention-seeking Christians hoping to make a name for themselves by offering “criticisms” of their own faith, you will likely find Jewish media owners, or editors employed by them, only too happy to oblige by affording them airtime or print space to do so.
This is not to say that criticisms of religion, including Christianity, should be shut down. There are plenty of Christian leaders, for instance, including Pope Francis (who is universally praised by the mainstream media, though that in and of itself should tell us something) who more than merit criticism. But with so much wrong in the world today, including wars and occupations and the politicians and media outlets who endlessly lie about them, how becoming or seemly is it for Christians to grandstand and publish articles disparaging their own church’s teachings?
What I would like to do here is offer a brief summary and commentary on each of the four articles named above, starting in reverse order with the piece published at Redbook. Entitled “I Baptized My Kid, But I Kind of Regret It,” the article is written by Megan Angelo, who professes to be a Catholic and who agonizes at length on the recent baptism of her son, Rocco, and whether or not it was a good idea.
Entirely shallow and vacuous, the piece itemizes poor Megan’s complaints about the Catholic Church–its “archaic” teachings on divorce, the “rejection of anyone who isn’t straight,” “condescension to women,” and “dogged, exhausting fixation on abortion”–while making no mention whatsoever of Jesus or his teachings.
Though it was against her better judgement, Megan went through with little Rocco’s baptism anyway, even though, as she describes, “it made my heart pound with irritation when, during our prep class, the deacon took a shot at the Jews for ‘letting their children choose the faith as young adults’ rather than locking salvation down at the infant stage.” (Doubtless the scandalous deacon she mentions deserves excommunication from the church and should be fired for his display of rabid anti-Semitism). Of her final decision to go ahead with the baptism she writes:
Why did I do it? I know what you’re thinking: the grandparents. Isn’t that why everyone does it? My parents and in-laws are Catholic; yes, they would have been surprised if we decided not to baptize our sons.
But the bottom line is that little Rocco was sprinkled–certainly a more horrendous and gruesome fate than being circumcised!
We are also treated to some memories by Megan. She recalls the “nice coats” her own mother made her wear to church when she was small, but which she herself “hated”–and she also discusses her Catholic elementary school, where time was set aside each day for religion, though Megan is convinced this was for no other reason that to “remind you, firmly, that it is your job to be nice to people”–and of course what a frivolous, self-indulgent pursuit that must have been.
Perhaps inevitably Megan also criticizes “the century-sized pile of sexual abuse that kicked the moral high ground right out from under the Church,” but it appears she has nothing to say about about the arrests of numerous rabbis on child sex abuse charges or the child sex scandal that engulfed Yeshiva University High School for Boys in New York in 2012. Of course her focus is on Catholicism, not Judaism. But accusing one of these faiths of a “century-sized pile of sexual abuse” while omitting any mention of the other tends to plant the idea in readers’ minds that Jewish religious leaders are free of sin and that only Catholic priests have ever displayed proclivities of this sort–which is not the case by any means.
But of course criticism of Judaism or sensationalized reports on pedophile rabbis is something you will see precious little of in the mainstream media. The only religion that gets rapped, panned or swiped at on a regular basis is Christianity. When it comes to Juadism, a different standard applies–which brings me to the next article.
On December 15, The Guardian published “Judaism Brings God into the Home in a Way that Christianity Rarely Does,” which basically offers a comparative analysis between Christianity and Judaism, and of course, not surprisingly, Judaism comes out on top. Not to harp too much on the point I made above, but can you imagine–in any mainstream media outlet, whether it be in Britain or America–an article entitled: “Christianity Brings God into the Home in a Way that Judaism Rarely Does”? I think I can state with a fair degree of confidence you will not find such a view offered up by any of the “usual suspects” whose editorial policies are notorious for trampling opposing viewpoints on a whole host of issues.
Now the astounding thing about The Guardian piece is that it was authored by a Christian pastor! Specifically he is a priest with the Church of England, Giles Fraser, currently serving as parish priest at St. Mary’s in London’s Newington area. In his piece for the Guardian Fraser confides that he is writing “under the bedcovers, metaphorically speaking,” and goes on to share:
I’m supposed to be on paternity leave but don’t like the idea of not doing this column, so I’m working in a few snatched moments between nappy changes and feeds. Nonetheless I’m keeping my promise to stay at home and so am taking a break from all the activity of the church in the run-up to Christmas.
Fraser doesn’t specify who the “nappy changes” are for–himself or the baby–though one presumes the latter. But he does inform us that “my mother-in-law is over from Tel Aviv,” which apparently means he is married to a Jewish woman, and he goes on to add that “sociologists of religion” have concluded that “many of the great liturgies and festivals of Judaism centre on the home in a way that they do not with catholic Christianity” (catholic spelled with a lower-case “c” since he is using the word in its more generic meaning of “universal”). Christmas, Fraser somewhat grudgingly allows, may be “the only possible exception” to this.
The main thrust of the article is that while Jews perform a number of religious rites in their homes (Passover seders, mezuzahs on the doorpost, etc.), Christian religious rites, such as baptism and Eucharist, are administered mainly in church. Of course Christians say prayers at mealtimes, but Fraser confides that in his own home this occurs “very occasionally” and usually only “when we have the bishop round for supper.”
Christianity once maintained “a firm distinction between the sacred and profane,” and this, our devout priest says, may account for the emphasis on church, though he also argues that the distinction became less important with the Protestant Reformation and the “rejection of the idea that the church is the middleman between human beings and God.” It is an argument slightly at cross purposes with itself, but in any event, Fraser announces happily he’s “going to enjoy a guilt-free paternity leave, messing around with my son, eating my mother-in-law’s borscht and lighting our candles.”
“My Jewish relatives,” he adds in closing, “are all secular Israelis – yet it is they, not I, who have introduced religious liturgies into our house. And I thank them for bringing God home. Happy Chrismukah.”
Another clergy member to take a potshot at the faith is Ruth Everhart, pastor of a Presbyterian church in Bethesda, Maryland. Her article in the Washington Post was published December 16 under the headline, “Our culture of purity celebrates the Virgin Mary. As a rape victim, that hurts me.”
Everhart may be stretching things when she describes America as having a “culture of purity” about it, but in any event she relates that at the age of 20, during her senior year in college, she and her housemates were victims of a home invasion in which they were raped repeatedly at gunpoint by a gang of intruders. The experience left her traumatized as well as “bound up in a sense of sexual shame.”
This is certainly not to minimize Everhart’s suffering–what she went through at the time of the rape, as well as afterward–but she seems to feel that the Virgin Mary, at least in part, bears some responsibility for what happened. Or as she puts it, “I’m not blaming my sense of ruin on the Virgin Mary, not entirely.”
She goes on to add:
Protestants do not claim Mary in the way Catholics do, but every Advent I feel a sense of kinship. I know what it’s like to be a good girl whose life got upended by what someone did to her body. Of course, her story plot was good and mine was bad. Plus she was, well, a saint. And I’m not.
Still, I study her this time of the year — always dressed in blue with downcast eyes — and want to ask: “How was it really? And how do you feel about what the patriarchy has done with you?”
I myself am kind of neutral on the subject of patriarchy. It’s neither inherently good nor inherently bad. But to get on with the story, more than a decade after the rape, Everhart became a church pastor because she “had to face down the demons,” and to do that she had to “live inside church culture.”
One might almost get the impression it was a gang of Christians who raped Everhart, though I doubt that is what the author was intending to imply.
She does make a valid point, however–that women have been sexualized in our society, and that while having a body is a gift from God, “if you’re a woman, it’s a complicated gift.” Christianity, through the teachings of Jesus, offers forgiveness for sins, real sins as well as imagined sins–and when I say imagined sins I am referring to those tormented souls who imagine themselves guilty of things they in reality were not responsible for. While Everhart speaks of the “redemption” she found in the gospel message, she doesn’t seem entirely conscious of this latter point, although maybe it’s told of in her book.
And yes, perhaps not surprisingly, Everhart has a book out! It is entitled Ruined. The book description, available here, opens with the following line, apparently a quote from inside: “It happened on a Sunday night, even though I’d been a good girl and gone to church that morning.”
So is Everhart blaming Christianity and the Church–or praising them? It seems perhaps a little of both. On the one hand, God didn’t stop the rape. But on the other there was the redemption gained in the years afterwards.
And as for the mother of Jesus, Everhart feels that while Mary’s story potentially, under different circumstances and if society were different, “could liberate us,” for the most part the saga of the virgin birth, she believes, has served “to oppress women.”
The Virgin Mary also takes a kicking in an article published at The Daily Beast on December 17 under the headline, “Virgin Mary, Career Killer.” And underneath that main head there is also a subhead which reads: “Questioning the birth story central to Christianity has been taking down scholars and skeptics for just about 2,016 years.” This is a rather amazing claim, especially when you consider that the only two examples the writer cites of this are an incident from the fourth century and a later one that occurred in the sixteenth century. The writer seems oblivious to the fact that people are far more likely to have their careers destroyed these days from criticizing Israel than the mother of Christ.
The piece is written by Candida Moss, who identifies herself as an instructor at the University of Notre Dame–presumably of religious studies, for she also tells us that “almost every atheist I meet,” upon learning of her teaching position, “will make a crack about Mary’s sexual history.” This would tend to contradict the assertion in the subhead that vast numbers of scholars are “taken down” by voicing skepticism of the virgin birth. How, after all, can people make “cracks” of this nature so freely and openly without suffering repercussions?
Indeed, Moss goes on to assert that of all Christian doctrines, none is “as closely protected or as broadly scorned” as the virgin birth. And she also relates the story from the Talmud that Mary was a whore and that Jesus’ biological father was a Roman soldier, commenting, “The implication here is that Mary was a collaborator who got knocked up by a hated occupier and decided to concoct a story in which Jesus was the product of a sexless encounter with God.”
But she then goes on to concede that while “conspiracy theorists may love it” (i.e. the story that Jesus was the bastard offspring of a Roman), there is in reality no historical evidence to back it up. Still, though, “of all the miracles recorded in the New Testament, the virgin birth of Jesus garners the most cynical attention.”
And finally, in a rickety stab a humor, Moss imparts in closing that when it “comes to Christian theology, as it does with yo’ mamma, Mary is both the most criticized and the most defended.”
So to recap, what we have are a series of snide put-downs of Christianity in the media, combined with attempts at blocking children from learning or being formally taught anything about the true meaning of Christmas, or indeed of any acknowledgement of Christmas in any public education setting at all, in different regions of the country. The cancellation of the play at the school in Pennsylvania, mentioned by Starnes, is perhaps especially instructional.
In a tradition stretching back some 40 years, the 5th grade class at Centerville Elementary School in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania has staged annual productions of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” But this year the play was cancelled by the school’s principle, reportedly at the insistence of a group of parents who have yet to be identified.
In a report on the decision here, Lancaster County is described as a conservative area with a “rich history of religious liberty,” and understandably many families are upset at the cancellation.
“It seems like people are trying to take away our traditions left and right,” said local attorney Randy Wenger. “We need to do something to push back.”
There is disagreement on the number of parents who complained about the play. Residents who have voiced outspoken opposition to its cancellation say the objections were from two parents only. The school’s principal disputes that, but is vague on the exact number. You can read his full statement on the matter here.
The principal of Centerville Elementary School is Tom Kramer. According to his Linked In profile, he has served as principal of the school only since July of this year.
“In addition to focusing on high quality instruction, our decision is rooted in the desire to be respectful of the many cultural and religious backgrounds represented by the students attending Centerville Elementary,” he says in his statement.
Kramer adds that normally the play requires 15-20 hours to prepare for, and that this takes too much time from classroom instruction–even though the tradition has been going on for 40 years.
“I was very surprised because it’s going on for decades and it’s a tradition at the school that everyone looks forward to,” said local resident Jane Burkhart.
Centerville Elementary is part of the Hempfield School District. A report by WHTM, a local ABC affiliate, includes comments from Shannon Zimmerman, a school district official, who claims that students were “required” to participate in the play, and that “we can’t allow that to continue.”
Is Zimmerman suggesting that students who may have wished to opt out of participating in the play for religious reasons were not permitted to do so? In a town with a “rich history of religious liberty” I find this difficult to believe. At any rate, rather than being “required” to participate, the students at the school, it seems, are now required not to participate.
In his statement released to the media, Kramer professes that “alternate solutions” for the play were explored, including the possibility of having rehearsals after school hours, but that so far neither parents nor other community members have “stepped forward” as volunteers to handle the responsibility–but of course these are working people. They are not hedge fund managers. They have regular jobs they have to go to, some of them probably holding down more than one.
It is amazing that a small number of people, a very tiny percentage of the population, are able to prohibit practically all official public expressions of religious beliefs, even though these religious beliefs are held by the majority–but that is the situation we have in America. And it is a state of affairs that doesn’t sit well with growing numbers of people–or at least that seems to be the case in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Most of the above was reported between December 15-17, but now the situation there seems to be evolving even further. According to a report here, published on December 22, a Jewish family has left the county out of fear for their safety, this after reader comments about the cancellation were posted on website.
The debunker website Snopes has also weighed in on the issue, attempting to make the case that the cancellation of the play was not an act of censorship, nor did it have anything to do with complaints about the play’s Christmas theme, and that it was all due to concern over taking away too much time from the classroom. The writer of the piece, however, seems to have been a little careless, referring to the school’s principal as “Kramer” in some parts of her article, and as “Kessler” at other points.
Despite all the attacks, Christmas–and the Christian faith–will survive, just as they have survived the last 2000 years. My guess, in fact, is that the faith will emerge even stronger–the cycle will swing back the other way–to the detriment of those now launching these attacks. After all, the more you attack something, the more your motives and your credibility are called into question. This is something we have seen with media attempts to demonize Russia, and I suspect the same will ultimately hold true for attempts to tear down Christianity.